Will the profane damage the sacred?

Published 2:18 pm Thursday, July 22, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr. is an icon to many of us who grew up in the 1960s or to those who participated in the struggle and walked with him and knew him.

That’s why it might be disturbing to see a plethora of plays and movies come out about King, which delve into his personal life.

There’s a play in London, “The Mountaintop,” which will come over to Broadway sometime in the fall or early 2011. It likely will star Samuel L. Jackson. The director is Kenny Leon of Atlanta.

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“The Mountaintop” is fictional. It’s based on King’s 1968 speech at the Mason Temple in Memphis, the day before his death. During the speech, King said told the audience he might not get over to the promised land with them, but he had seen it.

“I’ve been to the mountaintop,” King said during the speech.

Katori Hall is a black American playwright who grew up near the Lorraine Motel where King was shot on April 4, 1968. She took this statement and a little poetic license to set up the play in King’s room at the motel.

In this fiction, a maid brings King a cup of coffee late on the eve of his assassination. Instead of the non-violence attitude, the maid, Camae, is more of a Panther feminist (i.e. God is a black woman, etc.) They begin to talk, and eventually, you find out Camae is an angel with a message.

The audience can see King as a man, afraid of death, not wanting to leave his family behind; afraid of failure — or maybe even resentful of his success.

I’ve blogged off and on about the feature film “Selma,” and about Lee Daniels choosing[map] New Orleans[/map] over[map] Selma[/map] as the site for the film. A New Orleans acquaintance knows the writer for the screenplay, Paul Webb, and tells this blog Webb’s screenplay reveals the human King, including a scene between King and a prostitute.

But will this ever make the silver screen? Likely as not. A lot of stuff gets left on the cutting room floor.

The point here is King was a man. So were a lot of other political and movement icons. They had needs and desires and wants, just like the rest of us.

Are we confusing the spiritual with the profane now?

Consider this. In Mircea Eliade’s “The Sacred and the Profane,” we find broad, cross-cultural parallels in religion and myth. King is rapidly becoming mythologized. He is a modern martyr, so that’s no surprise. Undoubtedly the human side of King will only raise his stock as the freedom fighter. It’ll be interesting to watch.